09 Robert Adamson

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[The New Australian Poetry, page 80]

Robert Adamson



It is early, the harbour braces itself
like cold skin expecting a breeze — I have been here
standing on a barge since before dawn
for no reason. The new sun washes over lights
left burning.


The moon is halfway up the sky,
although is rapidly growing fainter in steady rising
sune… Had I not been here watching it fade
I would never find such a pale & thin rim.
A boat sails out of my eye.


A breeze is hugging the water,
without warning this happened, the surface is choppy.
I have lost my sense of time.
Clouds have come over the sky without

[The New Australian Poetry, page 81]

Robert Adamson

1971: Robert Adamson, with his Ford Customline car in Balmain. The photo and method of presentation are his.
1971: Robert Adamson, with his Ford Customline car in Balmain. The photo and method of presentation are his.



The most disconcerting feature is an absolute flatness

especially the sand. I’ve been here in love

and having passed the perfectly calm ocean had only

noticed the terns — If there was some way

back, some winding track to follow I’d possibly find

the elusive agents for creativity.

As now for instance, I am completely indifferent

to the sad way that fellow moves over the sand… who?

ah, let’s be pure in observation, let us drop opinions —

Look he stops, and throwing off his towel

runs into the surf, where stroking out he attacts the terns

and they curve above him.

Now look back to the beach, it is mid winter.

The sand’s deserted and eddies of windcaught grit are left

to dance and fall unhindered — At the far end of the beach

is an object, a rifle — rusting. He comes out from

the surf stubbing his toes, heading towards the place

where the rifle lies melting.

The sand whispers beneath his feet as he by passes the gun.

Dazed he goes in no particular direction.

The surf rolls a dead tern onto the sand and he kicks it.

Its wing unfolds like a fan, sealice fall

from the sepia feathers and the feathers catch fire.



Because we are old, ornamental questions cannot hold us —

The glass blower no longer puzzles us with circular mirrors:

The most perfect artifact is obsolete on its completion.

A controlled hair-trigger unleashes startled images;

At will, the poet — shotgun at his hip, has them flutter

Into sky like wildfowl… The poet creates a certain peace;

[The New Australian Poetry, page 82]

Robert Adamson

He is reflected peace, on a glass lake. He suffers

Functional symbols: for it was he who made the lake a mirror.

We cannot go hunting this season, our limbs are glass.

It is age again: all the resilience of youth’s jelly has gone.

Because we are brittle, we must decide now upon

The actual shape of peace. So are lovers peaceful — there,

Between the silver on the mirror’s back and the finger-smudges

On the mirror’s front? And the poet riding shotgun

Over his lake, does he ever make a kill? The mirror stores

Inhuman shapes: we have a bird of jade with a smashed neck;

We have the marbled eyes of the boy who fashioned it.

All material shapes, but if peace is an old man’s love of war?

Love’s peace is not clandestine gestures made by lovers —

We have watched a million lovers plodding through the sand;

They have passed us on Sundays, and they have followed us to war.

On Mondays… The surf has no time for reflection: each grain

Knocked from shell or rock populates the beach. The hunter

Swims; the poet fiddles with mirrors of his own reflection —

The man of action can only go to war. The hunter returns full

Of sport, with food and a mighty health. The poet returns

A hero. The man of action returns broken, at peace.




Why should I ever use the word Owl when it rubs
Against the grain? The bird
Itself works by chemicals also
Owls have Been used over


And over I shall not use the word or the word’s
Meaning it seems both are very Acceptable

[The New Australian Poetry, page 83]

Robert Adamson


0 juventes, O filu, O Stevens
A traditional poem about an owl could be a windy


I am not a humble man


Working with my hands doesn’t justify my poetry
As far as writing’s concerned
It’s one or the other


Did stanza three seem to be ‘a bit much’? it is
Not really serious


Owls are easy to use in a
Serious poem because they fly by night     The word’s
Been on my mind all week     Stanza
Two’s a lie



When I couldn’t he always discussed things.
His talk drew us together;
the government’s new war, the best french brandies
and breaking the laws. And it seemed
a strange thing for us to be doing;
the surf right up the beach, wetting our
feet each wave.

On that isolated part of the Coast, counting over
the youngest politicians.
Huge shoulders of granite grew higher
as we walked on, cutting us from perspectives.
He swung his arms and kicked
lumps of quartz hard with bare feet, until I asked
him to stop it…

[The New Australian Poetry, page 84]

Robert Adamson

He didn’t care about himself at all, and the sea
just licked his blood away.
The seemingly endless beach held us firm;
we walked and walked all day
until it was dark. The wind dropped off and the surf
flattened out, as silence grew round
us in the darkness.

We moved on, close together almost touching;
he wouldn’t have noticed, our
walk covered time rather than distance.
When the beach ended,
we would have to split up. And as he spoke
clearly and without emotion
about the need for action, about killing people,
I wanted him.



I lived on drugs and understood the pushers
As the crackup came on
There was nobody to blame and I confessed for hours
Until the police were in tears

The prison had a few prophets but they
Understood themselves
During the night the lucky ones burnt their tobacco
Each morning I feigned silence

The experience of prison remained behind bars
I dwelt on the idea of freedom
And folding ‘The Prince’ away when afternoon appeared
Went after pain

The ideas crowded around like pushers
And fed on my doings
I discovered thought as powerful as cocaine in winter
As a screw off duty I tapped my foot

[The New Australian Poetry, page 85]

Robert Adamson

All experience pointed to Saint Theresa
‘The Prince’ reassured me
I escaped from the books but names kept coming up
Pain alone said nothing great

I ask her why you know it all though say nothing
Believe me pain replies You don’t falter
You move


      (for Mary Jane Boscacci)

In children it is not the imitation that pleases us, but our
perception of it. In later life, the perjorative aspect of
imitation discloses its inherent unpleasantness. To give
pleasure an imitation must have been studied as an imitation
and then it pleases us as art.

                                                  * * *

In the long run the truth does not matter

Wallace Stevens

      Synoptic: The Open Song

A sequence, as objects alight with his touch
all round grow
            a song that’s ravaging his
mind     After his hand aflame.
                                                  Old shoes buckled in
the open cupboard:
things with light of their own

                                      What tunnels, those grave
faces make of wings of adrenalin

[The New Australian Poetry, page 86]

Robert Adamson

1985: Robert Adamson smoking, Terry Street, Rozelle, photo by John Tranter.
1985: Robert Adamson smoking, Terry Street, Rozelle, photo by John Tranter.

                                                        Pungent room
Wings spread for ascent,
                                        outpourings that break from
his being

Break and go forth, pushed energies
O disperse

The sequence     Spectators
bring to bear his insurrection, carve and hush
                              His song goes

up nightly     The sequence cut
and shuffled, his doctrine is lifting, his head
that lifts
                          the hand of keys
                damn you
                                      see the force, take focus
There:      thief, singer


      The Rumour: Part One


                          the first man to hear
Angels Sounding     was John
            the Divine as they told of descending on
Stars     and Man’s incorporate doubt

Was cast as the third Angel
Named its star Wormwood and language branched
Away dividing itself
From God from the Sounding sphinxing Word
Wormwood comes

                                          as a word in our time
Of war and speech buffets our Governors with its
Judaean Rites of obedience
Of America

[The New Australian Poetry, page 87]

Robert Adamson

                                          Thus John sang
Against the Trinity as King Hiram sang against
Jehovah in Tyre ‘If any man shall add unto
These things God shall add unto
Him the plagues…’

                    I take this as challenge
As the word Wormwood proceeds
My hand aflame to sing
Wildly and as clear as the Final Singer beyond
A prophet droning
                                    hundreds of years

The hand aflame an encyclical to turn mental things
In their graves restoring
Truth to its original lineaments
In rumour
                        taking the messengers
Who move through song’s convulsive tissue
              who bearing facts
Become in rumour
                      authors of dark up-rushings

Released by the encyclical they
Finally reveal their mere presence as words
In moving song even as
The adjectival ‘dark’ is revealed as song’s flow
Unmeasured here

                        Where I struggle from myth
No shape for my muse
Whose uncompleted sex seems more beast than
Cherub Rumour becomes the Muse
Her words surrounding me
Ezekiel’s mandala
                                        their appearance
                                                    and their

[The New Australian Poetry, page 88]

Robert Adamson

Work as it were
A wheel in the middle of a wheel my calendar
Who acknowledges her Source
As intransitive
                                even John’s


From her symbolism and falls into a line
As a word devoid but for its music
In rumour so outward from myth the language goes
Rhapsodic     impulsive
Hand aflame

                          if angels existed
They fell as man falls
            his hand is likely to shoot-out in air
When men fall their
                    darkness is revealed

O bitterness proceeds
Through our landscape in thick winds that pass
Through individual zones
Through Gates where nothing sings
Or proceeds

                          Where Source after
Source declines the out-shot hand     Declines
The ascending breath with
A terrible pretence
Of motion
                                    in winds’ boundaries
                                               so called

And from an endless text surrounding me
The seraphic Outrider
Draws his question ‘All this and you offer
Me virtuous rhetoric? His
Accusation goes
                                      unanswered as rumour

[The New Australian Poetry, page 89]

Robert Adamson

It is Compulsion

The bitterness is my two worlds at ends
Muse and Her Destroyer
The twins where ‘neither our vices nor our
Virtues further
The poem’


                        the hand of keys
Now lifted from its mythology rises beyond its
            meanings     The Open Song ascends
A scale unlocked from
                                    Schoenberg’s field of tone

Come at last to its matrix
In rumour to the Source and sentences that are
What I am calling
My muse a woman who alights in this verse
As an interlude

                      as deception
Confusing rumour’s extent of Order is the force
Constantly springing full-blown from
Once forbidden doors
Unlocked so that an abyss swallows
                                                            chromatic scales
                                                                    so called

Deeply bereaved Rumour forges
A retributive Lore that places the Open Song as
The force gathered into
Her ordering Core
                          my hand aflame drawn by
                                      her currents

Into the course of an extremity of law’s connection
With deceit where my freedom
Becomes Her stratagem that taunts
The hand aflame

[The New Australian Poetry, page 90]

Robert Adamson

      The Rumour: Part Two


                        She works on me
seems lain down before the verse begins
and problems     of structure
                                        fly up     sharp feathers
in the face and sting
            again     Salvation as Rumour untangles
herself from a fictional Source

            and the Distributor
looks me up     (if the diction’s smooth
is it his manner?
      in conjunction     if images
develop     every conceivable embellishment bears
down on the page as an
                                      irrational Mallarmiste
might bear down on the Muse)

  The feathers do not become
metaphoric     they come as those old trans-
mutations of the landscape
                                        forced into the mind
changing my position
                                                                from time
to time     Before there
          may have been feathers

                                  this time I’m ready
and rush into my own voice
            She is no muse     My freedom her crumpled
bedclothes movements underneath
                        the mode
Christabel rides

[The New Australian Poetry, page 91]

Robert Adamson


                          slowly scratch the word
Christabel on sand thus they rise again
Metaphors as genial facades
Rise     and I lift them
Here against All

Awake there will be a phrase of great beauty
Drawn on the page words flood
My experimental period
Rumour takes on form with her irregular
Gaps     tedium
                          where the phrase
                                      is pinned flat

Set apart by posture
Describing nothing and yet contained carefully
                      there’s an inexplicable pressure
                                    here a desire
          false as metaphoric
It turns incapable of sustaining
The promised phrase     each marshalled word’s
Reduced to its place in
A process

                    Rumour’s cramped the phrase
And you are praising it already and as you praise
It you praise the complete
Context that is supporting the phrase
As you reach

                       the usual dreary breaking away
From convention Christabel rides
                                    the mode
This is what happens when the poem can’t
                                          be caught

[The New Australian Poetry, page 92]

Robert Adamson

      The Rumour: Part Three


                        Suddenly there’s a need to
preamble out from where
I am that works on me and freedom comes
                                in having no vast plan
to conform to like
                   Hart Crane     rumour now
conforms for me

                        I like the idea
of ‘The Death of Order’ but if there
                                  happens to be
an historic law     it’s fulfilled by
          accident     So if these
feathers beating in my face are frozen
                    there    I’m ready to take

                    the risk of a narrowing scope
Rumour in her skin
drives what I have known from the verse
                    before its done
and even though I needn’t conform
                          here (take
Robert Duncan’s course of plain speaking
          set to my own measure)

            aren’t we all rather
irresolute when it comes to tampering
                                with others’ voices)
my freedom a crumpled page
                measured by the reader’s eye
her version of the thing itself
                                    these references she notes
appearing obscure
and lacking passion for the
‘larger audience’

[The New Australian Poetry, page 93]

Robert Adamson


                             These poets on poetry
continue to infest the barrel of his
                                        preamble   locked in
rough non-conformity he works
                                                  the verse into rumour
my freedom expanding
              as he writes as an american
                      without extemporizing with
those intricate

                      evasions   going about his
life listing a few things
                                  he just happens to like
(Robert Duncan, I’ll make a pact
          with you, I’ve
loved you long enough)   Zukofsky
                                                and Jack Spicer
who’s dead now make him jealous
even here

                        Sydney   monday 24/5/64 *       [* Monday 24 May 1964]
where he works on making things his free-
dom a slanted truth
                                  (this is the point
                        where whoever’s reading this
is forced into deciding
                                                  whether these lines are
turning to poetry)

                          Now experience moves
counter-clockwise   how for instance he can
take Zukofsky and Spicer
                                  away from Duncan
          as an american   on monday underway
without persona ordering
                          lines of Duncan’s verse
against all he may believe in (I’m trying
      to let everything fall away)

[The New Australian Poetry, page 94]

Robert Adamson


                            Rumour’s design
a pressure extending these propositions
                                        of freedom
              my appetite for absurdities
in language that broods and has no sense
                    of humour   exceedingly
easy   my muse

                    So here you are Duncan
opened at page 78 of
                                    ‘Roots & Branches’   tampering
that helps me Shelley must have
      been our first love
(setting Plato to new measures
                                    thinking of America
                  in his way)
who cares if he wanted it the hard way

                to beat form into
life   Who is it now Duncan   who’d give us
      a sign?   my freedom a set
of sonnets in their skin
                    I’ve learnt what virtuosity
exposes   Shelley
          running his rhymes
down thirty or so blank pages

                        of ‘Adonais’ (So now the pre-
amble self-justifying
                        itself or me) nor
casting what you call magic   just poet to
                    poet question to
question   clearly Robert Duncan
                          ‘organic poetry’ is done for
who cares though we’ve our

[The New Australian Poetry, page 95]

Robert Adamson

                    the brutal hack
Poe on some small-town rag crossing
                                  words after work
with words   American
            estranged walking under gas-rings
                          Coleridge high on his
anodyne with Christabel

                        realising to see
is only a language   Are these people
            Signs?   resources
for lists          They are my rhetoric
                                    easy cadences flowing almost
effortlessly   as they
            spring to mind (or as
Olson said the feed-back proves

                          the law and I’m taking risks
that aren’t risks for my
                                    freedom’s sake
Ginsberg   the final risk forging his mantra
                  from American
      cadences (a corruption of them
as Carroll lovingly
                      would have it)
spelling a halt to ‘the situation’ in

                          so that after the mantra
flows the true tongue
                              O juventes, O filu, O Stevens!
the rumour’s a-tangle false
      catalogues and old Ginsberg
tumbling through
                            the East here at twenty
past 3 am Sydney

[The New Australian Poetry, page 96]

Robert Adamson


                        Shelley must have been
our first love   Robert Duncan you were
            the notion behind this
not an abstraction   or description
                        that it become
rumour but reverent
            to the point where contact with it
would cause embarrassment
a keener wit

                        would bore me
Spreading its wings the Rumour grows taking
                                                  over the verse
my freedom a list of lies
            no longer perpetuates its
life   There’s been no
                                    other preparation than
devices being handed down
through poetry

                          He draws with his hand aflame
eclectic visions and writes
                        solemnly from no reason
who needs his spooky
          rhetoric ?   Duncan’s given him more
mileage than he deserves
                    with his feathery references
growing thin he’s

                  with his freedom a crumpled page
and now thrills with a prospect
                  of unleashing
          something raw   his metaphysical toys
tick over imagining a ‘vision’
                        Rumour has him in her course
and the phrase of ‘great beauty’
trips him up again

[The New Australian Poetry, page 97]

Robert Adamson

it can’t come
from this
sad improvisation
my two-fisted
& the poetry
the tone
of his voice
a soft membranous
where my
first dialectic
may have
it can’t come from
Her spirit now
thrown up
against the bone’s

so what to make
of that


      The Rumour: Part Four


               Source after
Source without his ascending breath,
That moved along the nerves of song   without his
Control; and the phrase

[The New Australian Poetry, page 98]

Robert Adamson

                        of great beauty
          is held against him:   though from this

His lines proceed; he is a hill of poetry.
Trees of the month grow
From the hill, January:   Birch — this month will
Travel into next.
                                      Maybe the Ash
                        of March will shelter him as little J.A.

Sheltered in his prospect of Marvellous flowers.
His metaphysics reckon with
Ashbery’s line, The Academy of the future
Is opening its doors.
                                    Ash.   The Ash of March:   its
                        timber used for supporting
                                                the King’s thigh and for

The shafts of weapons.
He farms Rumour’s form in the academy
Of the past: where I’m forced to bend, thrown up
Against the bones of my poetry.

            So as the cooling heart moves across her face,
What can he do as the bones
Cave in: The ‘figure’ of Ashbery does
Not surpass the mystery Of Rimbaud; words afflict us.

Mystery, as a word that sense
Comes up against, causes statements in our
Best poetry. Is that right?

The cooling heart moves across her face;
She is the muse.
                    1          new poets are faceless
                    2          the figure of Ashbery contradicts this
                    3          mystery is a bird’s bone

The feathers fly-up sharp pain against my face

                    4          are frozen there

[The New Australian Poetry, page 99]

Robert Adamson



            everything’s involving
freedom now   even the image of a bird’s
                      bone & feathers
cutting her cheeks
                                the confusing use
of the word ‘heart’

            as it moved across
her cold face back there everything’s
                                      folding because
nothing rings true
                          ‘I write because
I have to’   Hart Crane has had his
      day & if my

          pen is to be my spokesman
a muse can’t be created by
                                the poem’s process
        as Augustine
underlines my desire for her
    the lips of my

            mind & mouth   purify them
of rash speech & falsehood’
                                  his law has been broken
                    & truth spreads
its great wings into rumour
      as my lovely

            source rides the mode
as Christabel is slowly washed aside by
                        lapping tide
my freedom a need that follows
                                    creeps from
the small of my spine & now
      marrow catching fire as bones
support   support

[The New Australian Poetry, page 100]

Robert Adamson

            my freedom
extending from a crushed cloudy gown
she wears as a joke
source after reoccurring
                                  source in rumour
      I admire so much
before it’s even half complete works on
          me every

time something confronts
                          containing desire
    & I find myself
            practising a ‘delicate’ loneliness
then I’m caught in talk
                        holding my household
posture in tow

            rumour proposed as television’s
blue light showered us
                          reoccurring source
after source as the idea of feathers
            falls flat nothing
more than another
                            image pushed through
from the start

as the poem drags another stanza
                                      from rumour’s pulse ‘without
            a plan I was destined to
come to this foreclosing
                    of all promise’ so rumour
resolution’s false

            a feather falls from
the bird when it is
                  perfectly conceived the bird
                    falls on a rodent
as viciously   one
                        feather less

[The New Australian Poetry, page 101]

Robert Adamson

1990, circa: Robert Adamson and his third wife Juno Gemes, Stanmore, photo by John Tranter.
1990, circa: Robert Adamson and his third wife Juno Gemes, Stanmore, photo by John Tranter.


      Coda: Everybody Gathered In Objection

As from the start, well hewn lines bursting
apart. Closing in as tomorrow
branches up. Have they
            ever, been torn from their
Spheres-in-harmony, felt
                              the heart’s configurations
leaping in dissonance, from the
spitting leaping Flame ?
          of a tree flaking in ashes.

left to their particular anguish, gone off
without leaving a malignant Stamp
            on the carbonised Child?
                                      O the cold flame
grown long in language,
returns bitterly my conventional imp-
rovisation; takes up from there
                        contriving tones.   Separate notes
no longer cohere,
                    and Sounding
fly without radiance:   Only derivation
brings to bear

                                the new mode.
To ride the Open Song.
          So the ideas slanted against war
struggle free; the lyric
obstructed by sexual fury breaks forth, leaps
insatiable.   A distinctive cacophony
sounds drowning   All in radiant waves, over
          the objections sounding
as the poem flashes
brighter than the tree on fire, than
the proposition of Law,
                            flames against the carbon Child,
singing rapturously of the malignant
Stamp, of particular anguish.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 102]

Robert Adamson



there is always a point when suddenly
we stand to gain some news   mostly it passes
quickly and we don’t understand
we have lost everything
it is a point when to persist could mean losing
our grip on sanity
so we let up and the news from inside is
trapped there swelling


and winds outside blowing about your head carry
different sounds with them
that enter the body mingle and disperse
on the brain until
they are inseparable like radio
signals coming from a war where the enemy is
also broadcasting in english
brain cells


are not constantly dying as decadent ministers
they decipher the sounds into news
for the willpower   the spirit
rushes around like a puritan at the point
when we stand to gain
everything the news offers
the realistic willpower fans-out to patrol our
gushing filaments of adrenalin


only when the will breaks
news is released, only when the puritan spirit

[The New Australian Poetry, page 103]

Robert Adamson



Then with my white sails and bad luck
with the wind I am beautiful
each dawn there is more resentment towards me the fishermen
cannot look as sun
catches my hair turning the spokes
on their decks

So again I depart from the side of the planet
the boy who sleeps with me
Why speak



      (for James Tulip)


O to be ‘in the news’ again — now as fashion runs

everything would go for ‘prison sonnets’: I’d be on my own.

I could, once more, go out with pale skin

from my veritable dank cell — the sufferer, poking fun

at myself in form, with a slightly twisted tone.

My stance ironic — one-out, on the run.

Though how can I? I’m not locked up: imagine a typewriter

in solitary. I dream my police unable to surrender —

I’m bored with switching roles and playing

with my gender; the ironies seem incidental, growing thin.

There’s the world — maybe what’s left of it —

held together by an almost experimental sonnet.

Surely there must be some way out of poetry other than

Mallarme’s: still-life with bars and shitcan.


Once more, almost a joke — this most serious endeavour

is too intense: imagine a solitary typewriter? Somehow

fashion runs its course; and I’m not in pain.

So there’s hardly any need to play on abstract repetitions

[The New Australian Poetry, page 104]

Robert Adamson

to satisfy a predecessor, poet or lawbreaker: I won’t be clever —

all the clever crims are not inside the prisons.

Here’s the world — maybe what’s left of my pretences —

I dream of being carried off to court again:

a sufferer, where all my deities would speak in stern

almost sardonic voices. ‘Your Honour, please —

bring me to my senses’. There, I love confessions!

Imagine writing prison sonnets four years after my release.

If only all my memories could be made taciturn

by inventing phrases like: imagine the solitary police.


Yes Your Honour, I know this is ridiculous — although —

I’m ‘in the news’. I couldn’t bring myself to do

one of those victimless crimes : I must suffer in more ways

than one. My crime’s pretense is not to overthrow

social order, or to protest — it’s my plan

to bring poetry and lawbreaking where they interplay:

imagine newspapers in solitary. I’d walk right through

the court taking down copy ‘catch me if you can’ —

Defendant in contempt. There has to be a fight,

I can’t imagine anything when I’m not up against a law.

Now here’s the world — our country’s first stone institution,

where inmates still abase themselves at night.

If I was in solitary I could dream — a fashionable bore,

writing books on drugs, birds or revolution.


I dreamed I saw the morning editions settle on the court —

emblazoned with my name, my story so glib it made

no sense. The judge said ‘emotional’ but I thought

of the notoriety. This was the outward world, my sad tirade

was ‘news’. — Though, if I’d been rhyming sonnets

in solitary, my suffering alone could’ve made them art.

Now, imagine an illiterate in prison — but I’ve no regrets

I enjoy my lagging, I feel sorry for the warders.

The discipline always pulls me through, and my counterpart,

the screw, is tougher with the easy boarders.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 105]

Robert Adamson

This experience might feel profound — though irony’s never

broken laws — so I’m against everything

but practical intuition. My ‘solitary etc’ is too clever

by half now — but again — who’s suffering?


I brood in solitary; it’s a way to flagellation, thinking

of my ‘day of release’      I shuffle friends as dates

on my calendar, marking them off at random.

Here’s the world — the stewed tea I’m drinking

cold — O I suffer. When I walk through the front gates

into the country, what will I become?

I’ll throw away the sufferer’s comforting mask,

and turn against my memories, leaving a trail of perdition

behind me. Children and women will fall to my simple

intuitive reactions — not even the new journalists will ask

questions: nothing will be capable of feeding on

my actions and survive. My prison sonnets will be drugs

relieving pain: I have remembered helpless men

knocking their bars for hours with aluminium mugs —


We will take it seriously as we open our morning paper.

Someone’s broken loose, another child’s been

wounded by a pen-knife. A small fire down the bottom

of a suburban garden smells of flesh. Dark circles under

the mother’s eyes appear on television; she’s seen

her baby at the morgue. Our country moves closer to the world:

a negro’s book is on the shelves. The criminal’s become

mythologized; though yesterday he curled

over and didn’t make the news. So the myth continues, growing

fat and dangerous on a thousand impractical intuitions.

The bodies of old sharks hang on the butcher’s hooks.

In broad day somewhere a prisoner is escaping.

The geriatrics are suddenly floating in their institutions.

The myth is tom apart and stashed away in books.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 106]

Robert Adamson

2010, circa: Robert Adamson at the Sydney Writers Festival, photo courtesy The Red Room Company.
2010, circa: Robert Adamson at the Sydney Writers Festival, photo courtesy The Red Room Company.



I think of sex all afternoon

it becomes memory
the wide beds
and the fleshy women

who got me here

the mornings are best
spent alone
I can’t do anything in the mornings
with women anymore

I am taken from place to place
as I pretend
to be good about sex

then quite drunk
I lie back in the folds
of their particular sheets

face buried in fear near shame



Go around to Nigel’s
when you are too broke to drink
and there’s nobody left

for you to entertain
or to talk about yourself to

it will make you feel
either much better or much worse

sometimes he won’t be home
and then you can go all the way back

[The New Australian Poetry, page 107]

Robert Adamson

trying to cry or feel bleak
Nigel’s eyes come in handy

they have the same yellow in them
as birds of prey have

look at them a while
and you can take it out on him

tell him about a new girl
about the way somebody’s dying

you can get real serious
and sometimes work up a feeling
about some arsehole who’s a poet after all

Nigel’s eyes stay the same
the more lies you tell them

a calm there ready to take it in
the carnage the empty days



When my Granny was dying
I’d go into her bedroom
and look at her

she’d tell me to get out of it
leave this foul river

it will wear you out too

she was very sick
and her red curly hair
was matted and smelt of gin

I sometimes sat there all day
listening to the races
and put bets on for her at the shop

[The New Australian Poetry, page 108]

Robert Adamson

and I sat there the afternoon
she died and heard her say her last words
and I sat there not telling

maybe three hours
beside the first dead person I’d seen

I tried to drink some of her gin
it made me throw up on the bed
and then I left her

she said the prawns will eat you
when you die on the Hawkesbury River


      MY HOUSE

My mother lives in a house
where nobody has ever died

she surrounds herself
and her family with light

each time I go home
I feel she is washing
and ironing the clothes of death

these clothes for work
and for going out
to the Club on Sunday
and for Jenny to take her baby
to the doctor in

death comes on the television
and mum laughs

saying there’s death again
I must get those jeans taken up

      E N D